While I was in Maryland a few weeks ago, my father and I discussed the emerging Jack Abramoff scandal. (Abramoff is the Washington lobbyist who bought off Doug Bandow — and others.) A few days ago, my father sent me this lengthy article from the Washington Post on “The Fast Rise and Steep Fall of Jack Abramoff.”
Even if you’re not interested in the details of the scandal, the article is well worth reading as a case study of the ways in which the psychology of the can man impels him to concoct ever-more-loony schemes until the whole charade is finally exposed. Manipulators like Abramoff cannot ever run off to Tahiti to enjoy their ill-gotten gains in quiet comfort. Even given sufficient funds, they could not be content with such a life. Although they are often outwardly in pursuit of money, such is merely the material form of their basic desire for power and influence over other people. Yet that desire cannot ever be satisfied, since it conflicts with basic facts of reality.
However the con man derides his victims, he knows that his deceptions do not permit him to control others. They might be deceived at present, but they are still autonomous, rational beings capable of discovering the facts and exposing his schemes. The manipulator must evade those facts in order to maintain his all-important self-image as a puppetmaster. He must “prove” his control over others by more frauds, even though every one increases his risk of exposure. He cannot abandon that quest, not even by lounging on the beach in Tahiti, without eroding the whole rotten foundation of his self-esteem.
Certainly, Abramoff sometimes had millions of dollars at his disposal, yet he never retired, not even when his life started to spiral downhill. (Since he wasn’t reality-oriented, his money disappeared very, very quickly in that downhill spiral.) Ultimately, he was caught in a sure-to-fail fraud in which he merely pretended to pay some millions of dollars owed for a property. (Unsurprisingly, someone noticed.) So that scheme was exposed, that revealed another, then another, and so on. Given that his pursuit of money was merely a reflection of a much deeper desire for power over others, Abramoff could not have done anything with his ill-gotten gains except pursue more of the same.
Jack Abramoff is an unusual case, but only in the scale of his operations. He’s a greatly magnified version of a petty swindler — and so he illustrates the necessary disasters of a fraudulent life ever so clearly.